The TV in Jerry Kill’s office played clips of a TCU game on this July morning. The Gophers football coach paused the video for a visit, though one gets the impression he never changes the channel.
“That’s all I’m doing right now,” Kill said, glancing at the screen.
To further his point, Kill reached into a drawer and pulled out a three-ring binder as thick as Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” The pages contained scouting reports on the Gophers’ first four opponents.
Kill has everything he needs to know about TCU, if he didn’t already know it. Stats, coaching bios, personnel, formations, tendencies — even the fact that TCU’s dynamic quarterback, Trevone Boykin, prefers his morning eggs sunny side up.
(OK, I made that last part up.)
Kill’s staff has poured itself into preparation for the program’s biggest and most important season opener in decades on Thursday night.
Safe to assume TCU coach Gary Patterson and his staff have done likewise.
“Minnesota, all they worked on all spring was no-huddle,” Patterson said at his pre-camp news conference. “At least that’s what I’m being told [by] the little birds.”
The only thing missing from Patterson’s statement was a wink and a wry smile.
Every football coach prepares for a season opener with microscopic attention to detail because they have time, fewer distractions and a fear of the unknown.
On Thursday, you’ll see a Gophers team driven by an opportunity do something special.
A victory against college football’s No. 2-ranked team in a prime-time opener would qualify as a program-defining moment.
The Gophers have tried to stress the point that one game won’t make or break their season. While that’s true, a victory would create a ripple effect, revealing how far they’ve come as a program.
“I think there is an urgency there,” defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel said.
The caliber of opponent caused Kill’s staff to tweak its usual preparation for a season.
Coaches made decisions on personnel quicker in camp in order to solidify roles.
The Gophers also installed their game plan for Week 2 opponent Colorado State the first week of camp before shifting focus to TCU. That allowed players to lock in on the Horned Frogs the past two weeks.
Kill said he typically spends a lot of his summer months reflecting on the Big Ten portion of the schedule. Not that he ever overlooks the nonconference. But this particular opener has been serving as his program’s compass since the start of winter workouts.
“To say we haven’t thought about it a lot,” Kill said, “yeah, we have, because it’s the first game of the season and it happens to be TCU, so you really think about it a lot.”
The close friendship between Kill and Patterson and their respective coaching staffs creates a layer of intrigue — and perhaps paranoia — because they know each other so well.
Football coaches are a secretive bunch anyway, but a matchup between friends creates a perception of subterfuge.
Kill traditionally does not release an official depth chart until the week of the opener — in this case two days before the game — which Patterson took as a sign of something else.
“That tells you how badly they want to win this ballgame,” Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Patterson vowed to return the favor with his depth chart.
Kill held his starting defensive secondary out of the spring game as a precaution and probably kept things vanilla on both sides “because he knew I would be watching it,” Patterson noted.
Kill surely returned the favor by monitoring TCU’s moves, too.
That hint of gamesmanship made for a comical moment on the third day of fall camp when a small drone appeared and hovered over the Gophers’ practice field.
Players looked up in the sky and pointed.
Coaches noticed it.
Finally, members of the support staff found the operator outside the fence and told him to knock it off.
There’s no truth to the rumor that the guy wore a TCU shirt while disguised in a trench coat, a floppy hat, sunglasses and a Groucho Marx mustache.
This should be a fun week, the kind of atmosphere and anticipation not witnessed at a Gophers nonconference game in a long, long time. Fans should enjoy this moment.
“It should be an unbelievable setting,” Kill said.
And if the Gophers unveil a new no-huddle offense, those little birds will have been right.